Health & Safety Manager

February 26, 2018

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Let’s invigorate SHE!

Lately, health safety and wellbeing have been a huge topic of focus industry-wide. A lot of companies are promoting discussion of the latest buzz words such as ‘mental health’ and ‘wellbeing’ as well as the usual safety and health stuff too. But, are we doing it, or are we really doing it?

I have spent the last 12 months looking at behaviours and trying to understand what makes a good safety culture, is it the leader – or is it through individuals taking their own actions? Neither. It’s a state of mind. People must want to do it. In order to fully invigorate or revitalise health and safety, we must be passionate about wanting to change it. Not just because there is a topical focus or because our directors say we have to.

Empowerment

By taking a positive approach to tackle change we have seen a huge increase in the number of operatives making their own decisions and improving their work-life for the better. Instead of using shock tactics and negative messages displayed from health and safety incidents, we have empowered people to make their own choices. Consultation rather than communication is key. We MUST involve those who are carrying out tasks to get real-time, authentic feedback. What a health & safety manager or director may think is a good idea could be burdening or added pressure to an operative or site manager, making him or her feel overwhelmed or pressured in to change. Allowing people to come up with their own suggestion for improvement has seen innovation, ultimately those who are on the ground every day are the ones who’s buy in is required. You cannot get this buy in unless the workforce feel they are a part of creating it.

Of course SHE needs a positive and committed leader. Without this the culture change cannot be achieved. However if enough people are driven the results are inevitable.

Praise and encouragment

Encourage people. The world has enough critics. We are all used to the stereotypical safety officer who walks the site ‘hazard spotting’. In some cases these people are still useful, their expertise and experience is invaluable and those types of people too, with a little coaching can go a long way. You will never be able to replace experience good or bad and it is proven that people have respect for this type of encounter – whether it’s through training or conversation. However, a little bit of praise and telling people when they are doing things right goes a hell of a lot further than when you are telling people that they are doing something wrong.

Put yourself in this scenario

Here’s a question – if you visited a site to complete an audit and 99% of things were right. An operative had on all of their PPE, dust extraction and equipment was PA tested. He had even gone out of his way to set up a temporary cutting enclosure with signage and barriers to warn others of the risk, he is clean shaven and holds a face fit certificate for an FFP3 dust mask and is following all of the site rules and processes, EXCEPT there is a set of step ladders next to him that do not have a permit, but are not in use. Would you mark this down as a negative on the audit, or – do we spend a couple of minutes with the operative, giving him the benefit of the doubt, explaining the reasoning behind a stepladder permit and why they should be removed from site when not in use?

I agree that in some cases we must record this to analyse negative trends, however; would it not be much more proactive to allow the operative a chance to remove the steps and carry on working safely and pleasantly? 9 times out of 10 that operative will then go out of his way to satisfy and please you as a visiting safety officer, ensuring that morally, he is not asked again to avoid disappointing you. Sometimes we all slip up. We are all humans. The role of health and safety personnel in my opinion is a support function. Unless you give a little friendly advice and show that we are humans too, there will always be the stigma attached and the added preconception of health & safety managers.

Ask and listen

Spell your messages out differently, use media. Do whatever it is you need to do to engage with people but once you have their attention ASK them what it is that THEY would do. What would they do to raise awareness of mental health and wellbeing? How would they tackle climate change, safety statistics and work related illnesses? The most important part of being a good health & safety manager is your ability to LISTEN and show commitment by making those suggestions happen whilst you can. As an industry, on the whole we are improving. Even the standard 45001 looks at positives within the management system rather than historically, what is wrong.

I do safety because I am passionate about helping people. I live in a world, not where I see H&S as a legislative burden but where I envisage that one day health and safety managers will almost be extinct except when called upon for specialist advice – this is because people will want to be responsible for their own health and safety. When we understand the efficiency of good safety, health and wellbeing and people invest time in it, it will no longer be the ‘chore’ that it is sometimes seen as today.

Let’s invigorate SHE!

 

SHP interviewed Rachel Butler in 2017 in this article: Spreading positive messages about health and safety

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